Sports

Stanford women begin quest for another Pac-12 hoop title

 

In any other year, whether any other team was ranked higher or otherwise, the safe bet would always be with the Stanford women's basketball team winning the regular-season Pac-12 Conference title.

After all, the 16th-ranked Cardinal (8-4) has won or shared the past 14 conference titles and 23 of the previous 26. The common thread all those years was the presence of an All-American on the roster.

For the first time since the 2000-01 season, there are no clear-cut All-American candidates among Stanford's relatively young group. Senior Amber Orrange and sophomore Lili Thompson are possibilities, though neither has a national reputation.

Stanford enters conference play this weekend still working out the kinks of its newly installed offense.

"It's always difficult," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "There's a lot of work to do. We need to tweak some things. We've made the change from being a big team to a smaller lineup. We've stuck with a four-player perimeter game. That will remain to be seen if it works for us."

The Cardinal opens the Pac-12 season with a home game Saturday (7 p.m.) against Colorado (7-3) and another Monday against Utah (5 p.m.), both on the Pac-12 Networks.

The Buffaloes are the conference's best rebounding team, averaging 47.7 boards a game to Stanford's 41.3 following the Cardinal's 90-34 victory over winless UC Santa Barbara on Sunday.

Freshman Kaylee Johnson ranks second (11.2) in the Pac-12 in rebounding, the only Cardinal among the conference's top 20. Erica McCall is next at 5.6.

Colorado has three players among the top 16: Jen Reese (8.5), Jamee Swan (7.5) and Haley Smith (6.8). Point guard Lexy Kresl (5.6) ranks fourth on the team.

Colorado enters the conference season with an RPI of 66, eighth among Pac-12 teams. Stanford, at 35, is fifth. Arizona State (4), Washington (25), California (26) and Oregon State (33) are ahead of the Cardinal.

The 11th-ranked Beavers and 25th-ranked Sun Devils are the only other Pac-12 teams among AP's top 25, though California has been as high as No. 10 before losing Courtney Range to an injury. Washington has received votes.

"We're spacing the floor better and moving the ball better," VanDerveer said. "We're still trying to find the best alignment for us."

Stanford was the nation's top 3-point shooting team midway through December before a three-game slump in that department sent the team total under 40 percent.

The Cardinal has made 18 of its past 27 three-pointers and owns a team percentage of .421. Thompson (.468), Karlie Samuelson (.453) and Bonnie Samuelson (.452) lead the way. Sophomore Briana Roberson, Stanford's back-up point guard, has been heating up lately. She's .545 from behind the arc and scored 11 points in the win over the Gauchos.

"We're doing a good job of figuring out the offense," Roberson said. "We're figuring out where people can score and how others can help them score. We continue to work on our offense."

Roberson said the seniors, especially Orrange, are guiding her.

"Amber is always in my ear telling me hat I need to work on," she said. "The point guard has a lot of responsibilities and all the seniors are helping me learn how to help this team."

VanDerveer said there are 11 players in the mix to rotate in every game, depending on matchups.

"Bre comes in as a point guard and is making progress," she said. "Bird (McCall) comes in and does well. You have to look at (Brittany) McPhee. We're taking it one week at a time as we continue to work on the offense."

Against the Gauchos, the Cardinal recorded its most lopsided victory since beating Washington, 112-35, in Maples Pavilion on Jan. 8, 2009. The 77-point margin of victory is a school and conference record.

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